Fran O'Sullivan: Meaty claims best served with source

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Nicky Hager cynically timed his book release. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Nicky Hager cynically timed his book release. Photo / Mark Mitchell

So where is it, Mr Hager? I waited until 5pm last night for you to release copies of the hacked emails, Facebook messages and documents to journalists which underpin your major exclusive from Wednesday night: Dirty Politics.

Just five weeks out from the September 20 general election you surely couldn't have expected the country's journalists to meekly parrot all your conclusions instead of making their own minds up based on source documents and taking the issue further through their own investigations.

The story is already three days old.

But real journalists seek to base their stories on more than your own cynically timed splash for Wednesday night's 6pm television news where political reporters were expected to take down your words and publish them verbatim without even having read your book in the first place.

Where's the fairness of that in the midst of an election campaign?

But 5pm has gone. The news editor wants my column. And still no show on the document front.

Here's the thing.

In my view you have disclosed sufficient material (Yes, the critics will say it is based on hacked or stolen documents but that has never stopped the news media from doing its job when the public interest test is met) to justify proper independent inquiries into three particular issues.

First, the insinuation that the Prime Minister's office (or sources close to it) tipped off blogger Cameron Slater to make a finely targeted Official Information Act request to the former Security Intelligence Service (SIS) boss Warren Tucker to embarrass former Labour Leader Phil Goff.

At issue was Goff's claim that he had not been briefed by Tucker on whether a bunch of Israelis caught up in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake were Mossad agents. And the OIA disclosures where confidential information was declassified at record speed appear to have contradicted that.

This was a major annoyance at the time to journalists from mainstream media who also applied for the Goff briefing notes but had to wait until after the SIS fast-tracked Slater's request. This should be investigated by the independent inspector of the SIS.

Second, the insinuation that the PM's former black ops man Jason Ede conspired with Slater to gain confidential information from the Labour Party's website. Again, the backdoor to the website was said to be open, but the facts should be established.

The legal situation is not so clear as the National Party spindoctors claim. A job for a Ministerial Services inquiry perhaps.

Third, whether Cabinet minister Judith Collins or her office fed information to Slater outside of the normal confines.

These are the issues that matter to me.

Not what went on between Slater and his own contacts. Plenty of journalists have been the recipients of damaging leaks over the years. It is just these days it is more convenient for Cabinet ministers and their operatives to leak to an intermediary first because it enables them to plead plausible denial when journalists go hunting for the real oil.

Personally, I want to to base my own opinions on the substance of the relevant documents (and by seeking reaction from named parties) not have to take at first blush your own somewhat polemical version of affairs.

But while you were said to have been considering release, just like with your ultimate refusal to release to journalists copies of the documents that supported your expose book on Afghanistan (the one where you aimed a major drop kick up the backsides of Press Gallery journalists over their coverage which you found wanting), they didn't appear.

This is a major annoyance.

Because over the past 48 hours you have hogged the headlines and major news channels driving publicity for a book which is clearly timed to create as much mischief as possible five weeks from the election.

You've sat on these hacked documents since earlier this year - and bashed out a book which glosses over the fact in many instances you do not have verifiable evidence to back many of your claims - just conjecture which, however well-based, is conjecture.

Maybe there is another commercial deal in the offering and we can soon read stories shorn of rhetoric. But we'd have been a lot better off if you had put the documents up on WikiLeaks (or similar) and assisted all New Zealand journalists to do a professional job.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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